Select Committee on Education and Employment Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 120)



  100. Are you saying that they are not doing nearly enough on that?
  (Ms Urwin) There are some institutions which are.

  101. I know; by implication though, there are quite a few that are not?
  (Ms Urwin) I think that is probably fair, yes. I think those institutions which have taken widening participation and access seriously have included within that opening up opportunities for students with disabilities. And I think we are all clear that when you take students from a wider and wider background, and certainly when you take students with disabilities, there are enormous costs associated with that, and perhaps they are not being recognised as appropriately, through the funding methodology, as they should be.

  102. Is that a responsibility primarily of HEFCE, or is it a responsibility of the Secretary of State, through a sort of standards fund for HE?
  (Ms Urwin) The Secretary of State obviously gives his advice to HEFCE in the annual grant letter, and he has clearly asked HEFCE to support a significant expansion in higher education through the increased student numbers that are allocated, and he has also asked, through HEFCE, that we should take on board opening up opportunities for students with disabilities.

  103. I am sorry to press you on this, and then I will shut up, but if that meant, for the sake of argument, £15 million extra needed to be spent by universities to address the issues of students with disabilities, is that money that should come as a supplementary from the Secretary of State, or is that money that HEFCE itself should find?
  (Ms Urwin) I do not think HEFCE should be top-slicing any more money, I think the additional requirements should need to come through additional funding.

  104. So any increment has got to come from the Secretary of State?
  (Ms Urwin) Yes.


  105. If I can push you just on that, and I will come to Evan in a second, if there was an incentive to get you to recruit more students from backgrounds where not any member of their family had ever been to university, first generation students, or students with a disability, whichever, more difficult categories, what is the sort of premium that you would put on that which would make a real difference to your institution?
  (Professor Wright) But we have to do it anyway; if we are to meet our targets, we have to do that sort of thing anyway. Obviously, it carries with it additional costs, in terms of having to explain to people what the implications of higher education are, etc., etc., but I do not think it is a case of whether we should or should not do that, we recognise that we have to do it.

  106. It is a carrot and stick, is it not; the stick is telling you that you have got to do it, to meet certain targets, but what about the carrot, what sort of carrot would make a real difference, to energise the process, not just your institutions but generally?
  (Professor Yorke) I think I would go for more in terms of outreach, and things like that. If you take, again, the socio-classes IV and V, the deficit in that area, I would be looking to encourage institutions to go out very positively to do lots of things to bring such people in and to make sure that the experience was in the right. I would make a choice that that would be a better priority for me than trying to get more state school people into Oxbridge, for example. I think it is bringing people in, rather than redistributing those that are already in.

  107. I think we all agree with that; but the point I am putting, and perhaps we will get to Dorma on this, because of her special knowledge of this, what kind of number, at the moment it is about five, there is still, already in this sector, 5 per cent, is there not?
  (Ms Urwin) Yes.

  108. And some of the witnesses we have heard have said that that is not enough. Where would you pitch it, to make a real difference?
  (Ms Urwin) I think, if I were to offer a view, and it is only a view, I think it should be at least double.

  Chairman: Thank you for that.

  Dr Harris: Can I ask, and this is a simple question, I hope it is not a catch question, if the choice was between expanding the numbers of students, if this was the choice, or, within the same number, getting more students in from less well represented groups, and you had extra money with which to do this, rather than, say, an envelope of resource, which would be your priority, not just from a higher education point of view but from the point of view of the labour market and the future of the country and our competition worldwide, I do not want to focus just on higher education?

  Chairman: Who wants to answer that one?

  Dr Harris: I will.


  109. We do get to the stage where Evan asks a question and answers it as well. That is a bit too cosy.
  (Ms Urwin) Can I just be clear. Are you asking us if we stayed with the same student numbers but we changed the social mix of the student numbers; that is the question?

Dr Harris

  110. Yes. The Prime Minister has talked about 50 per cent, which we are still some way off, and question-marks have been raised about whether there is a labour market need for that, whether the labour market can support people with those qualifications, level 4 instead of level 3, but that is an aim. An alternative use of the resources, such resources as there are, could be really to work hard on redressing some of the imbalances, not just socio-economic but in terms of mature students, in terms of getting more outreach done, single parents, disabled students. It is not always a simple either/or, but do you think the priority should be the one or the other?
  (Professor Wright) The clear answer is, if you do one you will achieve the other; if you recruit more from the non-traditional, you will achieve a growth, because the others are not going to go away.

  111. So it is possible to expand to 50 per cent and have that filled with relatively well-off people?
  (Professor Wright) No, I do not think it is, actually, I do not think it is. I think there is a view that the traditional market, at 18, 19, whatever, is close to saturation.

  112. Can I tell you that the figures show that, with the recent expansion up to where we are now, the proportion from social classes IV and V has not risen, even with—
  (Professor Wright) That is my point. My point is, the expansion has been done on the back of, I would not say everyone, but the majority of those who at 18 or 19 from certain backgrounds who want to go to higher education will.

  Mr St. Aubyn: Could I ask a question, if I may. Obviously, in the news very much at the moment is this crisis in teacher recruitment.

  Chairman: The alleged crisis in teacher recruitment.

  Mr St. Aubyn: Well, in my constituency, in one school, we had 90 children being taught by one teacher, a week ago.

  Dr Harris: It is a question of alleged teachers, in some of our schools.

  Mr St. Aubyn: That there is a real problem there, and I am sure this Committee is the last place that ought to make light of that crisis.

  Chairman: Nick, we are not making light of it, we are just changing the vocabulary a little bit.

Mr St. Aubyn

  113. Yes; well, there is, and we have a real concern about this. So are we saying that the chance of getting more teachers from traditional, middle-class groups has been fully exploited, and if we are to get more teachers coming in we are going to have to reach out to other groups who, in the past, have not normally considered that as a career avenue; is that the conclusion of what you are saying?
  (Professor Wright) I think you are asking for a slightly more sophisticated labour market analysis than I can give, in response to that question. Mine was a more general observation. It seems to me, and I think the evidence clearly is there, that the expansion of higher education, over the past number of years, has been achieved largely by bringing in more and more from particular backgrounds, and I think the challenge now is not to reduce that but to increase those who, for a variety of reasons, have not come forward in the past.

Mr Marsden

  114. So you are saying that expanding the numbers would fulfil the social imperative?
  (Professor Wright) I believe you cannot achieve one without achieving the other.


  115. But are you also saying, as a rider to that, that that will bring problems of retention?
  (Professor Wright) I am not, provided one allows me to be the Secretary of State in the way you asked me about, and say, let us introduce a different way of funding students and deferring the contribution, and thereby removing the perception of debt, which I believe may well be a significant barrier.

  116. You have a differential sort of funding system to the universities anyway, do you not?
  (Ms Urwin) No.

  117. Do you not have a different base of funding, slightly different than ...
  (Professor Wright) Only insofar as we have different funding streams. The Teacher Training Agency obviously funds our teacher education, with the National Health Service our nursing; but the Funding Council is the same.

  118. Thank you for that. The last words, Professor Yorke and Dorma and Michael, to you; is there anything that you think—we always give you the opportunity to say the last word, but sometimes the best last word is when you are driving home, or are on the tube, and you think, "I wish I'd said this to the Committee," and then we very much would welcome your comments, when you have time to think about this experience. But, any last words you would like to say to the Committee, before we wind up this session? I think it is an excellent session, but is there anything you would like to add?
  (Ms Urwin) Perhaps, Mr Chairman, just to say that, if you have been to the United States and you are going to the University of Surrey, I do think you should visit a college of higher education.

  119. Good advice. Michael?
  (Professor Wright) I will share that.
  (Professor Yorke) One thing I would like to touch on, which I hinted at earlier on, and that is how do you measure non-completion and what do you count as non-completion. One of the issues that bothers me immensely, and I think we probably actually overestimate non-completion in the indicators that we have got, this was a question that you touched on a moment or two ago, because we do it essentially on a kind of cross section per year basis, actually, the bit that deals with the efficiencies in the system, whether students are successful in the bits of academic endeavour for which they enrol, so, in other words, modules, or something like that. And if we actually computed on a per module success rate, as they do in Australia, actually we would show a higher rate of success, because we would be losing some of the stuff that actually is nothing to do with the contract between the institution and the individual, a lot of the adventitious things, like illness, and so on, that get in and are treated as part of the non-completion thing, they would disappear, not completely but considerably, from the equation. And, therefore, I think that is where I would like to see the HEFCE PIs in that area begin to go, and I know that in the early days of setting that up they found this was too difficult, for the simple reason that some institutions worked in that kind of way and others did not. But I think it could be something that the HEFCE PIs' team could work towards that might actually be an advantage. And then I think the figure of £200 million, which is based on the figures that they quote of about 18 per cent, would actually come down a bit, because we would be talking about what is really involved in the system of student interchange rather than some of the peripheral things that actually have nothing to do with the educational experience.

  120. Professor Yorke, I think that is a very good measure.
  (Professor Wright) Chairman, may I have my last word. I think it would be remiss of me not to take just this opportunity of saying, I mentioned this in my brief note to you, but about half of the colleges of higher education are Church foundations, and this is not the time to open that debate, but I think it is just worth noting that there are aspects of the Church dimension which I believe may be relevant to questions of student retention. Clearly, University College, Worcester, is not a Church institution and I would not at all suggest that many things they do and we do are not the same, but clearly some of our students certainly believe that there are aspects of that which contribute to the experience which they have. And I mentioned here that there has been a recent review by Lord Dearing of the Church colleges in the context of the review of Church schools.

  Chairman: Thank you for that, and thank you very much for your contribution, and thank you for remaining on the grid for such a long time, Professor Yorke and both of you. Thank you.

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